Reviewed by Dr. Stacy Choczynski Johnson, DVM.
There’s nothing quite like bringing a new puppy into your world. And as soon as you do, your days are filled with walks, fetch, cuddles, and bundles of puppy energy. When you look into those puppy eyes, you know you’ll do everything to make sure your dog has the happiest, healthiest life possible.
One of the most important things you can do for your new puppy in their first few months of life is to take them to the veterinarian for a wellness check-up and their necessary vaccinations.
Vaccines help protect your puppy from certain illnesses and prevent the spread of disease. In this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about canine vaccines – and give you a sample puppy vaccine schedule to follow.
“Ensuring appropriate and complete vaccination of a new puppy is one of the most critical and essential responsibilities that a new pet parent has. While vaccines represent only part of a new puppy’s early health care needs, their importance cannot be overstated. Through vaccination, your puppy’s veterinarian is not only protecting that new companion from potentially life-threatening diseases, but he/she is also providing protection to other animals and people in the same household.”– Charles A Hurty, DVM Grove Veterinary Clinic
How do puppy vaccines work?
Vaccines give puppies the defense they need to fight disease-causing microorganisms. Vaccines contain antigens – which look like disease-causing organisms to your puppy’s immune system – and are designed to not make your dog sick.
Even though your dog doesn’t get the disease itself, their immune system still produces a response. That way, if they do come into contact with disease-causing organisms in the future, their immune system is more prepared to fight them off. In short, puppy vaccines work the same as vaccines of other species including kitten vaccines and human vaccines.
Puppies typically begin receiving their vaccinations around six weeks of age, with booster shots at intervals of two to four weeks, until they are approximately four months of age. The timing of puppy vaccinations is extremely important. This is because puppies receive protective antibodies through their mothers’ milk after they’re born, providing temporary immunity. As this immunity wanes, the vaccination (i.e. parvovirus vaccine) immunity can pick up where mom’s antibodies left off.
Once this immunity begins to decline, puppies should be already off to a great start with their vaccination schedule in order to develop their own long-lasting immunity against infectious diseases.
Recommended vaccines for puppies
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) breaks down their dog vaccination recommendations into two categories: Core vaccines and non-core vaccines. We’ll walk you through the details of each type and which are needed for puppies.
Core vaccines are recommended for all dogs. These vaccines are vital to all puppies based on risk of exposure, transmissibility to humans, and severity of disease.
According to the AAHA’s guidelines, core vaccinations for puppies include:
- Canine distemper virus: Distemper is caused by the canine distemper virus; it’s highly contagious and can be spread by contact with an infected dog. This serious disease has no cure and can be fatal. Symptoms range widely and can include diarrhea, vomiting, cough, discharge from the eyes and nose, and, in some cases, seizures.
- Adenovirus-2: The adenovirus-2 vaccine is designed to protect puppies against two serotypes- CAV-1 and CAV-2. CAV-2 causes respiratory disease, also known as kennel cough, while CAV-1 causes hepatitis. Clinically, veterinarians are most concerned with protecting your dog against the canine infectious hepatitis virus caused by CAV-1. This viral infection causes an inflammation of the liver and is spread through urine or feces, as well as eye and nose discharge of infected animals. Signs of the disease range from upper respiratory symptoms to fever, anorexia, cloudy eyes and collapse. Mortality rates up to 30 percent have been reported. Maternal antibodies for this virus begin to decrease between 5-7 weeks of age, so early vaccination is critical.
- Parvovirus: Canine parvovirus, also called “parvo” is another highly contagious viral disease that affects the gastrointestinal system and heart muscle. Parvo is typically spread through the feces of an infected dog, which is why cleaning up after our dogs is so important. Parvo is most common in puppies, especially unvaccinated dogs under one year of age. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. There is no cure for canine parvovirus – aggressive treatment with hospitalization is important for the best chance at recovery.
- Parainfluenza virus: Along with adenovirus, the parainfluenza virus causes kennel cough. As the name suggests, coughing is the most common symptom of the disease, but other signs can include runny eyes and nose, loss of appetite, and wheezing. Signs will be more severe when there is co-infection with other respiratory pathogens. Kennel cough is passed very easily from dog to dog – environments that house many dogs at once, like kennels or dog parks, may have a higher risk of spreading the virus. There is no specific cure for kennel cough, but most infections resolve in a few weeks with rest and supportive care.
Pro-tip: The 4 antigens listed above are often included in one multivalent vaccine. At the veterinary hospital, these all-in-one vaccine injections may be called any of the following by your vet: parvo vaccine, DAPP, DHPP, or distemper vaccine. In other cases, parainfluenza is given with the bordetella vaccine discussed below.
- Rabies: Rabies is a fatal disease caused by the rabies virus, transmitted when an infected mammal bites your dog. The rabies virus attacks the nervous system, and causes symptoms including foaming at the mouth, excessive drooling, paralysis, difficulty swallowing, aggression, or other changes in behavior. Since there is no treatment for this fatal disease, vaccination is essential. Rabies vaccines are required by law in most states.
Non-core vaccines are not recommended for all dogs, but your veterinarian will often recommend these based on your puppy’s lifestyle, location, existing health conditions, and other risk factors. Prior to going to the vet, ask yourself, “Will I take my dog to boarding, grooming, dog parks, camping, hiking, on airplanes or traveling to rattlesnake or racoon country?” Be sure to share this with your veterinarian.
For example, if you plan on taking your puppy to daycare, your veterinarian may recommend certain non-core vaccines, like bordetella and canine influenza. The facility may even require them as a preventative measure prior to boarding. It is important to allow your puppy enough time to build up protective immunity before dropping off for playtime.
Non-core vaccinations for puppies include:
- Bordetella bronchiseptica: Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common bacterium that causes kennel cough. The symptoms are similar to the ones dogs experience from viral kennel cough – cough, loss of appetite, runny nose, and sneezing. The bordetella vaccine is typically recommended for dogs that are frequently exposed to other dogs, such as those who attend daycare, go to boarding facilities, visit dog parks, or start training classes. The bordetella vaccine can be given on its own, or combined with the parainfluenza vaccine. This vaccine can be given by various routes and as part of varied protocols. Check with your boarding facility to determine what is required and consult with your veterinarian about what protocol will provide the best protective immunity.
- Leptospira: Leptospira is a bacterium that causes leptospirosis, a disease that affects the liver and kidneys of dogs. Leptospirosis is often spread through contaminated water and is more common in wooded areas or neighborhoods with rodents and raccoons. Symptoms range based on the severity of disease, but can include fever, lethargy, jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive drinking. Antibiotics can be used to treat this bacterial infection and are most effective when started early. The leptospirosis vaccine may be recommended for dogs with exposure to lakes, rivers, or other similar bodies of water, as well as those with exposure to farm or wild animals. Hospitals may consider this vaccine a core vaccine in their vaccination protocol.
- Borrelia burgdorferi: Borrelia burgdorferi is the bacterium that causes lyme disease. Lyme disease is transmitted through a tick bite, most commonly, the deer tick. The symptoms of lyme disease in dogs can be harder to detect than in humans, but can include fever, refusal to eat, and limping. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, however advanced therapy is indicated for dogs that develop a form of kidney disease called lyme nephritis. The lyme disease vaccine may be recommended for dogs who live in areas where deer ticks are common, such as the Midwest and Eastern U.S. In addition to the vaccine, you can also give your dog monthly tick preventatives to help protect them from Lyme disease.
- Canine influenza virus (H3N8 and H3N2): Canine influenza, or dog flu, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by an influenza A virus. Dog flu can be spread through the air, through contaminated objects, or by direct contact. Symptoms of the disease include cough, nasal discharge, fever, lethargy, and reduced appetite. Again, like humans, dogs usually recover within a few weeks – and fluids and rest can help reduce symptoms. There are two forms of the dog flu vaccine to protect against the different strains of the virus: H3N8 and H3N2. The AAHA guidelines state that any dog deemed at risk for canine influenza should receive both vaccines. Risk factors for infection are similar to those associated with kennel cough: dogs that frequent parks, daycare facilities, groomers, etc.
- Crotalus atrox: Perhaps less well-known, the crotalus atrox vaccine may help protect your dog against rattlesnake poisoning. If your dog gets bit by a rattlesnake, the toxin from the bite can cause excessive drooling, panting and restlessness, followed by additional symptoms, such as collapse, diarrhea, lethargy, and swelling. The vaccination causes the production of antibodies that will bind to protein fragments in rattlesnake venom. This aids in neutralizing the venom of some crotalid snakes. Although this vaccine will not offer complete immunity from rattlesnake poisoning, it can help decrease the severity of clinical signs. In any case, if your dog is bit by a rattlesnake, they will need emergency veterinary care. This vaccine may be recommended for dogs that live in areas where rattlesnakes are common. Veterinarians administering the vaccine should consult current recommendations for vaccine schedules and research providing evidence of clinical efficacy.
Puppy vaccination schedule
Now that you have an understanding of the different vaccines your puppy may need, let’s give an example of what a puppy vaccine schedule might look like. Please note that you should consult with your veterinarian for recommendations. Manufacturers guidelines may vary and protocols may change as research becomes available. This is one example of a vaccine schedule:
Starting at six to eight weeks:
- DHPP combination vaccine. This core vaccine can be given as early as six weeks. Booster shots are given at intervals of two to four weeks until your puppy is around 16 weeks of age.
- After the final shot in the series, your dog should receive another vaccine one year later, and then after that, every three years.
- Bordetella vaccine. For this non-core vaccine on its own (without the parainfluenza combination vaccine), your puppy will typically receive a vaccine eight weeks of age. There is significant variation in the vaccination protocol depending on the route of administration, age, and lifestyle of your pet. Consult with your veterinarian at the first puppy appointment about a plan for your new family member.
- Leptospirosis vaccine. This non-core vaccine can be given as early as eight weeks of age, with a second dose 3 weeks later. A booster is administered annually.
- Lyme disease vaccine. Just like the Leptospirosis vaccine, your puppy can receive the Lyme disease vaccine as early as eight weeks of age, with a second dose 3 weeks later. A booster is administered yearly.
- Canine flu vaccine. Puppies can receive the canine flu vaccine as early as six to eight weeks. Two shots are required, at an interval of two to four weeks. Yearly boosters are recommended.
12 to 16 weeks:
Rabies vaccine. Your puppy receives one rabies vaccination as a puppy. Typically, 12 weeks old is the earliest the vaccine is given, but in some states the rabies vaccine is administered closer to 16 weeks of age. At your puppy’s one year check up, talk to your veterinarian about which type of vaccine your pet will receive – one or three year labeling. It’s around this time that your puppy may also receive their final DHPP booster.
After your dog has completed their initial round of puppy shots, they will need to receive boosters every one to three years depending on the vaccine. With non-core vaccines, such as bordetella or canine flu, your dog’s need for vaccination may change based on their lifestyle and risk factors.
When you bring your new pup to your local veterinarian, you can discuss their policies for immunizations, testing, as well as other procedures that are common for puppies, such as deworming, heartworm prevention, and spaying or neutering.
Risks of vaccines for puppies
As with all medical procedures, there are some risks associated with puppy vaccinations, but they’re extremely minor compared to the benefits of preventing illness and the transmission of disease.
“New and improved technology has not only delivered vaccines that are more effective at protecting our beloved companions, but we also have access to extremely safe immunization products. I like to say that the most rewarding side effect of puppy vaccination is a healthy adult dog.”– Charles A Hurty, DVM Grove Veterinary Clinic
Very few puppies have serious adverse reactions to vaccines. Some puppies may experience mild side effects after vaccination, similar to humans. These side effects can include loss of appetite, localized swelling at the injection site, or malaise. Generally, these symptoms occur shortly after the initial vaccination and subside fairly quickly.
If your puppy experiences longer lasting symptoms, or more serious reactions, such as vomiting, hives, swollen face, or anything that gives cause for concern, you’ll want to contact your veterinarian immediately.
How much do puppy vaccines cost?
Vaccines are just one of the expenses you’ll be paying for within your puppy’s first year of life, and beyond. To help you budget your dog care costs, you can talk with your veterinarian ahead of time to get a better understanding of vaccine prices.
Overall, the cost of puppy vaccines can vary based on factors such as your location, veterinarian practice, the type of vaccine, etc. A single vaccine may range in price from $15 to $50. For your initial round of puppy shots, however, you may be able to receive a single price for all required vaccines – and some veterinarians may bundle in the cost of an examination, deworming, or other services.
Planning for a healthy future
We all want the best for our canine companions – and ensuring they get the right puppy vaccines is one of the most important steps you can take to help your dog live a happy and healthy life.
After your new pup has completed their first round of shots, you’ll want to make sure they stay up-to-date on their vaccinations and visit the veterinarian on a regular basis for a check-up. You can also work with your veterinarian to create a healthy life plan for your pup – choosing the best dog food, learning how to stay active, and more.
Preventive care and insurance can help
Vaccines protect the pets we love and are a crucial part of preventative dog care. But just like humans, our dogs can still get sick. In the event that your puppy gets sick and needs a trip to the vet, Pumpkin’s dog insurance plans can help you get the best care possible – now, and in the years to come.
*Pumpkin Pet Insurance policies do not cover pre-existing conditions. Waiting periods, annual deductible, co-insurance, benefit limits and exclusions may apply. For full terms, visit pumpkin.care/insurancepolicy. Products, discounts, and rates may vary and are subject to change. Pumpkin Insurance Services Inc. (Pumpkin) (NPN#19084749) is a licensed insurance agency, not an insurer. Insurance is underwritten by United States Fire Insurance Company (NAIC #21113. Morristown, NJ), a Crum & Forster Company and produced by Pumpkin. Pumpkin receives compensation based on the premiums for the insurance policies it sells. For more details visit pumpkin.care/underwriting-information and pumpkin.care/insurance-licenses.
Preventive Essentials is not an insurance policy, and is not available in all states. It is offered as an optional add-on non-insurance benefit. Pumpkin is responsible for the product and administration. For full terms, visit pumpkin.care/customeragreement.